Train yourself to see big-picture possibility, rather than small obstacles. If you get too bogged down in the details, you’ll never reach for anything outside of your comfort zone.
Anita Ramachandran is the Executive Director of MicroMentor, a social innovation of Mercy Corps, and the largest online community for free business mentoring, operating in nearly 200 countries worldwide. She has over 20 years of combined Non-Profit (NGO), corporate operations, and foundation management experience across a wide spectrum of industries and countries. She’s an entrepreneur, problem-solver, and changemaker, passionate about mentoring and personal growth.
Where did the idea for MicroMentor come from?
MicroMentor came up as an idea at the Aspen Institute in the 90s, when the predominant conversation in the microenterprise industry was democratized access to financial capital, particularly as the microfinance movement was gaining momentum. Research at the time indicated that access to social capital was just as important if not more important than access to financial capital. They decided to test out this theory specifically through mentoring, and MicroMentor was founded as a result.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In this position, my typical days are pretty evenly split between the office and on the road.
When I’m not traveling, my days in the office are usually filled with lots of conversations, team members, partners, members of leadership, or holding informational interviews with people looking to enter the non-profit or social enterprise sector. With offices and clients all around the world, meetings often start for me at 6 or 7am. On a good day, I’ll try to put my head down and make progress on our ongoing projects during the day, because we set some pretty audacious goals for ourselves each quarter. If not, that concentrated time happens during an early morning or late evening shift.
On the road: I’m either speaking at a conference about the role of social capital (and the transformative power of mentoring for small business owners, particularly at scale) or attending leadership gathering with peers in our line of work. Quite often, these tend to align with or are around events where I’m showcasing the impact of catalytic funding for our donors. So from San Francisco to DC or Guatemala City to Amman, lots of thinking time happens on the long-haul plane rides.
After a long travel period with long days and non-stop level of social engagement, when I’m able to come home and cook a traditional Indian meal and snuggle with my dog, it’s a welcome respite. When I rejuvenate a bit, I’m able to come back at full force.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Something that one of our partners mentioned to me, is that when I meet individuals or organizations whose working initiatives align with our own, I’m able to see a vision (free from operational/logistical barriers) or as she put “see a line of sight through the fog” of how we could join forces to create a larger impact. I am able to take in the complexities of context and personalities and ensure that I’m being mindful of that. My skill is in articulating my passion to individuals and in listening to theirs, so we can get to a common vision. Once we get there, I know there are people better equipped than me to make sure it becomes a reality.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The most exciting trend I’m seeing, for me personally, is that the role of mentoring has become highly valued and gained visibility as a key asset in business success. Instead of being just a “nice to have” activity, mentoring is gaining momentum and is becoming more front-of-mind for individual entrepreneurs, organizations, and corporations. MicroMentor’s platform was long ahead of its time, and now rising demand and comfort with virtual connections means that the timing is ripe for mentoring to take center stage.
For us, this translates into momentum we can use to galvanize large communities of skilled volunteers as mentors and onboard corporate employees as mentors with a turnkey solution. It also means we are able to power organizations serving entrepreneurs at scale with a mentoring solution that can meet their needs.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
On most days, the first thing I do when I wake up is to set an intention for the day.
Throughout the day, I make it a point to have individual conversations and forge deep personal connections with people, which translates into being a better listener and building trust. I am also open to being vulnerable and open in my conversations. I can get more out of a one-on-one conversation and figure out how it will help me to support the team or grow our business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Practice a mix of self-discipline, self-care, and self compassion. Those things are just words until you’re able to practice it, find the tools to really understand what they mean, and implement in your daily life. Knowing how to do that allows me to be that way with others as well and also to be an effective, yet empathetic leader and citizen. I also wish I could’ve taken the Enneagram when I was 21! I think it would’ve helped me to figure out how my personality both gets in my way and supports me.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Working with an open heart and displaying vulnerability (within appropriate boundaries!) when done with integrity wins without exception. Not to stereotype, but in general that’s much harder for men to do. And for women, we have been conditioned that if we want to succeed in a man’s world, we’ll have to shut that down. For me, living that way is not acceptable.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I meet with my mentor every two or three weeks. And I make it a point to read: books on business, leadership, personal growth or fiction.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Relentless focus on results and people. Cultivating a strong team, and capitalizing upon each person’s unique value has helped us to reach our goals in ways we hadn’t realized was possible. It’s a work in-progress for me, but being able to distinguish between fact and judgement is a practice that really helps focus on results, rather than getting caught up in the “blame game.”
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
An entrepreneur’s journey tends to be one of fear and isolation. In the past I was not confident enough to aim higher or be brave enough to say how we’d get there. When I allowed myself to whole-heartedly work with my mentor, I came to realize that it didn’t matter whether I was “the best person” for the job, I WAS the person doing the job and I just needed to own it and show up.
To maintain this mindframe, I must keep myself accountable and have confidence that I can power through whatever challenges are in my way.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve been thinking about how to create an academy to cultivate young women and men to become changemakers within their local community. This academy would teach self-efficacy, confidence and networking skills. It would offer discipline and structure for a plan to connect with business owners and influential individuals in their area so they can become local and global changemakers.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I got a massage in the middle of a leadership summit because my back hurt so much from traveling that I couldn’t sit or stand! That’s the best $100+ dollars I spent last week.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I think Zoom conferencing for meetings and staying connected with the global community that I’m working with. With partners, clients, donors, and team members working in different corners of the world, it’s so important to maintain that human connection by looking someone in the eyes.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Everyone should pick up DARE TO LEAD by Brené Brown.
Perhaps the best combination of research-backed evidence for open-hearted and daring leadership, along with practical tools for how to use it day-to-day in your professional life.
What is your favorite quote?
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Maya is exactly right. If you have had a mentor or someone who has advocated for you, and your life is just a little better for it, take a moment to thank them. And, you find yourself stuck, as I sometimes find myself, there is help and there is hope.
- Train yourself to see big-picture possibility, rather than small obstacles. If you get too bogged down in the details, you’ll never reach for anything outside of your comfort zone.
- Set an intention for the day before you get out of bed, and try to practice equal parts self-discipline and self-care on a regular basis.
- Make sure your team takes time to celebrate their wins.
- Take the Enneagram test to better understand how your personality informs the way you show up, both personally and professionally.
- Get a mentor!